HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County Senior Center took a tour of the county’s Old Rock Jail Museum on the afternoon of Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018.
Historian Jerry Taylor led the group through the recently renovated site, sharing stories from days gone by.
Once the group had viewed the downstairs portion, which once served as the former sheriffs’ living quarters, many ventured to the upper-level to take a peek at what life was like behind bars.
Historical Society member David Sokol told the tale of a friend, Dires Farmer, who visited her incarcerated boyfriend at the jail in 1959, stealing kisses through the iron bars. This, in turn, encouraged reenactments from the lively seniors.
Louise Card, 94, was among the ladies to receive a peck. “I moved here from Florida 40 years ago,” Card told FYN, “I would have been here 40 years earlier if I’d known these mountains were here. I’ve been married five times, had seven different last names, and I have six great-great grandchildren with another on the way, due in February…And yesterday, I was jitterbugging at the senior center.”
Towns County Senior Center Program-Wellness Coordinator Gail Bradley-Parker chauffeured and chaperoned the cheerful crowd.
TATE CITY, Ga. – Tate City, a tiny town with a population of 32, was the topic of discussion at the Towns County Historical Society’s monthly meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2018. Historical Society President Sanda Green announced that it was the largest turnout to date, with 110 names penned on a sign-in sheet.
Ralph Nichols presented his memories of the quaint town, which sits nestled deep within the northeastern forest of Towns County, Georgia, bordering the North Carolina state line.
Mr. Nichols’s father grew up in Tate City, as did the generations that came before him, and Nichols had a vivid recollection of days spent in the speck of a city. Nichols grandparents, James and Mary Rogers Nichols, married in 1893, and his grandfather farmed and raised livestock in the valley to provide for his family. Nichols’s grandmother was said to be part-Cherokee, and served as a mountain midwife and medicine woman, traveling by mule over the rugged mountain ranges to assist patients in need of care.
Nichols shared a fascinating story of a time when he stepped on a rusty nail as a child, and a dire infection set in. According to Nichols, his grandmother directed family members to find a sassafras tree in the woods, and bring back the bark and roots to boil as a remedy. Once it had been boiled into a soggy mush, Nichols recalled that his grandmother placed the remnants between two pieces of white cloth, and tightly wrapped his infected foot up to heal.
“The next day, my foot was almost as white as that piece of paper right there,” Nichols said with a smile, pointing to a page of notes. Nichols shared his grandmother’s tried-and-true remedy for toothaches as well, involving parched baking soda. A book in which Mary Nichols wrote her recipes of ailment cures sadly disappeared shortly after her death, allegedly taken to the state of Virginia by Nichols’s aunt. “She had a record of all the babies she brought into the world, and all the people she doctored,” Nichols said.
Nichols told the attentive crowd that although versions of the story differ – with one claiming that Grandmother Mary walked to Gainesville, and another variation saying that she rode her trusted mule – that the medicine woman eventually traveled to Gainesville, Georgia, and caught a train to Atlanta in order to become a licensed medical professional. Nichols said that during the winter months, his grandmother would, at times, have to be chipped from her riding stir-ups by the towns people, which had frozen her boots to the mule gear after crossing through icy creeks.
Nichols shared memories of loggers moving into Tate City during the yesteryears, and buying land for a mere two dollars per acre, in order to acquire the virgin timber. Miners arrived as well, in search of rubies. Nichols said that in the early days, livestock roamed free, with the owners of cattle, hogs, and sheep marking the ears of the animals with different symbols to identify their owners. It was said that a record of the livestock, and their identifying marks, was kept on file at the Towns County Courthouse.
Nichols reminisced about walking to his grandparent’s home in Tate City with his brother, Willard, from their home near Shooting Creek, NC, as young boys. “It was just the two of us, a dog, and a .22 rifle,” Nichols said, explaining that his family had no way of knowing if the boys had safely arrived each time they set off on foot to travel an estimated ten miles over the vast mountain range.
At the conclusion of Nichols’s presentation, residents from Tate City who attended the meeting were acknowledged, adding additional facts about their beloved town. One resident said that Tate City was the last location to receive electricty in the state of Georgia, in the early 1970s, and boasts the smallest voting district statewide, with only 17 registered voters.
Tate City is located 32 miles from Hiawassee, or 16 miles as the crow flies, over Charlie’s Creek. By road, visitors enjoy a scenic route through the Southern Nantahala Wilderness, alongside the Tallulah River.
Feature Photo: Tate City “Mall”
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County Historical Society honored local military veterans on Saturday, July 14, during an annual heritage ceremony which began in 2014, founded by Historical Society Secretary Betty Phillips.
Phillips – the daughter of a veteran, and the widow of a World War 2 United States Army Staff Sergeant – recalled a conversation with her late husband before the program began. “Richie knew how much I loved history, and one day he made a point of reminding me of how different our history would be without our veterans. He said, ‘Betty, would you have the freedom to preserve history without the veterans?’ His words inspired me,” Phillips said with a smile.
The room in the former recreation center on Main Street, which now serves as a meeting hall for the historical society, quickly filled with veterans and supporters on Saturday morning at 11:00 a.m. Historical Society President Sandra Green opened the ceremony, acknowledging the dedicated effort Phillips applied to the project. The Pledge of Allegiance was followed by the National Anthem, sung by Karli Cheeks, and an invocation was offered by Doug Nicholson.
“I am truly blessed and honored to be standing up here because I don’t feel worthy of it, necessarily, because we owe it to those that have served,” Phillips emoted, “Either they were drafted, or they were willing to go and volunteer. We would not have a society like we have today if they had not sacrificed. Now, some people paid the ultimate price, and in Towns County, we have one of the nicest veterans’ parks that you can find anywhere. It’s in a beautiful location. It overlooks Lake Chatuge and the mountains, and most of all, the names of the veterans go on that wall. The other day, I started counting the names. There are over 1300 names on that wall. Now, the ones who paid the ultimate price, they have their own monument, their picture and their plaque.” Phillips noted that in World War 1, there were eight veterans who sacrified their lives for the sake of American freedom, three of which were Phillips’ relatives. During World War 2, thirteen service members paid the ultimate price. The veterans’ memorial is located in front of Towns County School on Highway 76 East.
The keynote speakers were World War 2 veterans James Richard Lewis, 96, and Fronz Goring, 97.
Lewis, reminised on his childhood, and his love for aeronatics; an appreciation which led to serving as a naval mechanic during the second World War. Lewis reenlisted in 1950, and served in the United States Air Force during the Korean War. Lewis listed serving under four Commanders-in-Chiefs: Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, and Nixon. “If the current Commander-in-Chief asked me to join the fight, I’d carry it to the gates of hell for him,” Lewis asserted.
Towns County’s oldest veteran, Goring, recalled his military service, and spoke lovingly of his late wife, Mason L. Goring, also a veteran, whose name is enscribed on the local veterans’ memorial wall. The couple met Thanksgiving Day of 1945, married Jan. 13, 1945, and spent 61 years together. “Right now, I’m stationed at Brasstown Manor Resort,” Goring joked.
A decorated table filled with photographs of local veterans lined a wall, and a touching video clip of an interview of local World War 2 veteran Bud Johnson, 95, who attended Saturday’s ceremony, at the late Governor Zell Miller’s recent memorial service in Young Harris, was shown on a projection screen.
Towns County Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw and Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales attended the program, offering words of gratitude to the veterans and their families.
Members of Friendship Baptist Church presented certificates of recognition to veterans of different eras, and ensured that the crowd received a Chick-Fil-A sandwich, chips, cookies, and a soft drink at the conclusion of the program.
Towns County Historical Society expressed appreciation to its members, and to Alpha Delta Kappa Sorority, for helping to make the hertiage program possible.
Next year’s ceremony is scheduled for Saturday, July 13, 2019.
(Feature Photo: Towns County’s oldest veteran, Fronz Goring, age 97)
HIAWASEE, Ga. – A long-awaited, highly anticipated ceremony took place on the grounds of the Towns County Courthouse Saturday, May 20, 2018, memorializing the completion of renovation of the Old Rock Jail. The historic site sits just east of the county courthouse, adjacent to the Towns County Library. Deeded to the Towns County Historical Society Oct. 20, 2016, by former Towns County Commissioner Bill Kendall, efforts to transform the site into a museum proved to be a success.
The Old Rock Jail served as the county jail from 1936 until the mid-1970s, prior to the construction of an updated detention center. The jail was renovated in 1980, and functioned as Hiawassee City Hall, as well as a voting precinct, before abandonment in favor of a modern facility. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. The Towns County Historical Society gained possession of the site Jan. 27, 2017.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony began with words of welcome from Towns County Historian and Master of Ceremonies Jerry Taylor. An invocation was offered by Towns County Historical Society Member Doug Nicholson, followed by the Pledge of Alligence lead by Cub Scouts Pack 407, with the National Anthem sung by Karli Cheeks. Towns County Historical Society officers were announced, with President Sandra Green, Vice President Nancy Cody, Secretary Betty Phillips, Treasurer Frances Shook, and Membership Secretary Mary Ann McCall Miller in attendance.
Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw, former Towns County Commissioner Bill Kendall, and Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales spoke at the ceremony, expressing appreciation to the historical society for their dedicated work toward the project. Towns County Sheriff Chris Clinton attended the event.
Jay “Junior” Chastain and Trey Chastain, the son and grandson of former Sheriff Jay Chastain were recognized. Sheriff Chastain lost his life in the line of duty in 1974, and Chastain was the the last sheriff to live in the Old Rock Jail.
Towns County Historical Society Deputy Historian Jason Edwards presented the history of the Old Rock Jail to the sizable crowd.
Towns County Chamber of Commerce President Candace Lee orchestrated the ribbon-cutting.
The museum features artifacts from Towns County’s past, with some items donated and others on loan. Photographs from days gone by grace the vine-roped stone of the interior, with the downstairs living quarters revived to its former glory. The upper-level of the museum contains the cells where inmates were once housed, as well as the former sheriffs’ office, and the area is available for public viewing.
Towns County Historical Society meets on the second Monday of each month, at 5:30 p.m. at the former Senior Center, located at 900 North Main St. in Hiawassee.
Information on becoming a member of the society can be found at TownsCountyHistory.org.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – The Towns County Historical Society presented the city of Hiawassee with an artifact Monday, March 26, at the council’s monthly work session: the original 1929 tax digest for the city.
“This is very appropriate since you were just talking about your budget,” Towns County Historian Sandra Green told Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales. “This is the 1929 tax digest for the city of Hiawassee. This is the original and we’re presenting it to the city. You’ll love some of these numbers. The Bank of Hiawassee, their city tax was $21.70, but they only paid $20.30, and we aren’t sure why.”
The crowd erupted in laughter.
Penciled beside the typewritten taxes due from the Bank of Hiawassee, the amount paid is scribbled.
The aged list contains the names of citizens and businesses that operated in Hiawassee nearly nine decades ago.
The tax calculations were based on 40 cents per $100 worth of property.
The total amount of taxed property amounted to $46,977, with $187.60 due to Hiawassee.
The highest amount in taxes owed by a citizen was $16.40.
Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales expressed appreciation to the Towns County Historical Society for the framed document.
The Towns County Historical Society reminded that restoration of the Old Rock Jail will soon be completed with the museum scheduled to open May 19.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Fetch Your News (FYN) correspondent, Robin Webb, was granted an impromptu tour of the Old Rock Jail in Hiawassee on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. Towns County Historical Society President Sandra Green approached the site as heavy afternoon rain fell and found the reporter perched on the porch, seeking cover from the storm.
The historian was scheduled to meet an electrician in a continuing effort to restore the jail to its original glory, and kindly offered the curious journalist an opportunity to explore before the workman arrived.
“The floor restoration is our proudest achievement. Coker Custom Floors was able to preserve the original wood,” Ms. Green informed as the pair entered what was once the sheriffs’ living quarters, “and the walls are unique. The style is called grapevine.”
The Old Rock Jail served as the county jail from 1936 to the mid-1970s, prior to the construction of an updated detention center. The building was renovated in 1980 and functioned as Hiawassee City Hall, as well as a voting precinct, before abandonment in favor of a modern facility. The jail was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. The Towns County Historical Society gained possession of the future museum on Jan. 27, 2017.
Ms. Green guided the way through the former kitchen where a wood burning stove once stood, winding around into a narrow hallway. “I believe a desk sat there for registering the inmates,” the historian said, pointing to an area beneath the stairwell.
The intrigued reporter glanced toward the steps that lead to the desolate cells above as thunder rumbled outdoors. “Just wait until you see the up there,” the friendly historian chimed, well aware of the writer’s fascination.
The final room toured on the lower level once served as bedrooms for the sheriffs and their families. Green pointed out a marking on the wall where the room was previously separated by a partition. Once the restoration is complete, the area will become the museum’s main display section for rotating historical artifacts, while the living area will be decorated seasonally to reflect and preserve the sheriffs’ dwelling.
The time had arrived to head upstairs to view the jail itself. “Watch your footing,” Ms. Green cautioned as the journalist followed closely behind. “We still need to install a railing.”
The historian swung open a heavy iron door and the duo proceeded inside. The cells were dimly lit and a dampness hung in the air. The skeletons of metal bunk beds surrounded a cage that once housed up to four inmates at any given time. Countless names were scrawled and chiseled into the rock walls by the inhabitants, alongside spray-painted graffiti, an act of vandals after the jail was vacated in 1977.
Across the hall lies what was once a bullpen for additional prisoners. A compact cell with the bars running diagonally lines a corner. “We believe that was the drunk tank,” Ms. Green explained.
The last upstairs room entered was the former sheriff’s office. “That’s why the walls in here are so much cleaner than the others,” the historian quipped as the reporter snapped more photographs. Military memorabilia will be placed on display throughout the jail’s upper level.
Six Towns County Sheriffs once called the Old Rock Jail home, the final being Sheriff Jay V. Chastain Sr. who was killed in the line of duty on Dec. 8, 1974
FYN inquired as to when the site’s final restorations are expected to be complete. A date is unknown at the time of publishing. One thing is for certain, however. It will be a must-see spot for history lovers, both local and tourist alike.
The Old Rock Jail is located next to the Towns County Courthouse, south of Hiawassee Square.
Featured Image: Towns County Historical Society President Sandra Green
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